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« on: June 27, 2009, 12:31:03 PM »

Terrorists recruit for cyberwar 


Terrorist groups that have long used the Internet to spread propaganda are increasingly tapping the Web to teach Islamic extremists how to be hackers, recruit techies for cyberwarfare and raise money through online fraud, U.S. officials say.

A senior defense official said intelligence reports indicate extremist groups are seeking computer experts, including those capable of breaching government or other sensitive network systems.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information, said the extent and success of those recruiting efforts are unclear.

But jihadists' interest in hacking is evident in forums across the Internet. Law enforcement officials say terrorists are branching out into Internet fraud to raise money for their operations.

'Experts in the electronic jihad'

One Internet forum, the Mujahedeen Electronic Net, offers hacking instructions in a number of postings. A lengthy posting markets a weekly course and limits it to regular contributors to the Web site who confirm they are committed to Islam. The author of the offer claims the course will be taught by "experts in the electronic jihad," according to a translation of the posting.

Last week, U.S. and Italian authorities broke up an international telephone fraud ring that had roots in Italy and employed hackers in the Philippines. The operation is believed to have funneled thousands of dollars to terrorist groups in Southeast Asia.

Italian officials drew a fragile link to Osama bin Laden. They said one of the men charged with financing the hacking scheme had close ties to members of the International Islamic Efforts Foundation, a Philippines-based group linked to an Islamic charity organization once headed by one of bin Laden's brothers-in-law, Muhammad Jamal Khalifa. Khalifa was reported killed in 2007 during a burglary in Madagascar, where he had a sapphire business.

To date, experts say extremists largely have engaged in "sport hacking" defacing or taking down Web sites belonging to groups they consider enemies, such as sites featuring Shiite, Jewish or Christian beliefs.

"It's more for propaganda value than for tactical value," said Jarret Brachman, a former West Point researcher who is an expert on jihadist groups.

These "hacktivists" prefer to use the electronic media for advertising and spreading their beliefs. Internet sites that promote Islamic extremism abound, as do sites that instruct followers how to build bombs or conduct other types of attacks.

Aggressive push among extremists?

But some recent activity suggests there may be an aggressive push among extremists for expertise such as engineering and technical backgrounds that could be used against the U.S. government or other vital systems.

A senior counterterrorism official, who also requested anonymity in order to speak on the sensitive matter, said al-Qaida is known to seek out followers with scientific knowledge, and computer ability is a logical step.

Adam Raisman, a senior analyst at the Washington-based SITE group, an organization that monitors militant Web sites, said he has seen pitches for people adept at photo or flash video programs that can be used to build propaganda Web sites or take down sites considered offensive.

But, he added, "It's very difficult to gauge what they will do if they have the ability to penetrate a network and realize the damage they can create."

Brachman described a growing network of people in the U.S. who go online and "cheer from the sidelines. They will never do anything violent, but they have the skill sets to do low-level hacking and this is a way they can play."

Bringing consumers into the jihad

The challenge for extremist organizations, he said, is to find those people and then "get them to take the step from being a consumer to actually being an active participant" in the jihad.

Terrorist groups lack the skills to match the abilities of sophisticated governments such as the U.S., China and Russia in launching widespread Web attacks, but they could hire someone who does, Steven Chabinsky, assistant deputy director of cyberissues for the Obama administration's director of national intelligence, recently told a technology conference.

Reaching out to hackers with equipment and expertise could enable those groups to transmit viruses or worms to take over computers and direct them to send spam, carry out identity-theft or take down Web sites.

Some officials contend that extremists don't have to take down a critical network or system to have an impact. Even the ability to penetrate and deface a well-trafficked Web site could shake public confidence in the government.

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« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2009, 12:13:22 PM »

Congressman Warns US Grid Can be Wiped Out By Electromagnetic Weapons     



There's been plenty of evidence recently that the Smart Grid could become a serious security risk for IT and households. Now comes something potentially just as troubling: A U.S. Congressman warns that the grid can be taken down by an electromagnetic weapon.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (Rep.-Md.) issued that warning recently. He's not your typical "the-sky-is-falling" Congressman --- he's a former research scientist and engineer and has previously has worked on projects for NASA and the military. Bartlett issued his warning yesterday at a House Science subcommittee hearing about how to roll out the Smart Grid.

At the hearing, he warned that a weapon that fired an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) could wipe out significant sections of the Smart Grid. According to a Science News account of the hearings:

EMP is a powerful and potentially devastating form of electromagnetic "fallout." It's usually associated with nuclear weapons, although it can be triggered by any major explosive bursts. Unlike radioactive fallout, this rain won't directly harm living things. It will just catastrophically fry all electronics and modern electrical systems by inducing staggeringly large and rapid current or voltage surges.

The magazine goes on to report that Bartlett warns small nations could use the weapon against the Smart Grid, when it is developed:
All one needs to wreak some serious EMP damage, he charges, is a sea-worthy steamer, $100,000 to buy a scud-missile launcher, and a crude nuclear weapon. Then fling the device high into the air and detonate its warhead.

Such a system might not paralyze the entire United States, he concedes. "But you could shut down all of New England. And if you missed by 100 miles, it's as good as a bulls eye."

At the hearing, various people testified about how the grid might be hardened against attack, by protecting key components of it. Bartlett, though, isn't convinced that we're doing enough and wants EMP protection built directly into it.

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